What do comp and hours look like after big law?

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What do comp and hours look like after big law?

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Jun 07, 2021 4:23 pm

I'm curious, what does a realistic path, in terms of comp and hours, look like after big law? And maybe appropriate examples of actual jobs. Reading these forums, I feel like I've been able to put a lay of the land together, but I'm not sure I have it all right. From what I see:
  • People may often spend 2-5 years in big law. Comp starting at $190k going up to $275k timeframe, and beyond, depending on tenure. A small percentage (10%?) makes partner. Some stay as nonequity people. Some leave due to burnout or other reasons. For those who funded their JD with loans, even with significant scholarships, this timeframe is just enough to pay them off in full if one lives frugally.
  • For those leaving, I've heard mixed things. Some say these people are unemployable at other big law firms. Others note they can take other law jobs, typically with better hours and at a pay cut. Some leave law entirely.
  • Are exits from the big law firms heavily shaped by the specialization you focus on at your big law job? E.g., if you did tax law at big law firm X, you're not really qualified to do anything aside from tax law?
  • For those who don't make partner at the best of the big law firms (e.g., Vault 10, Magic Circle, etc.), are there any opportunities that are unique to those ex-associates?
  • Corporate in-house law seems the most common and most viable option (?), with comp around $150k-$200k, promising reasonable (but relatively stagnant, versus big law) comp, better hours, and more stability. Is this true and is the comp range about right? And in the end, is this ultimately the most likely outcome?
  • Top tier public service jobs - clerkships, DOJ Honors, etc. are also an option, and big law helps to get in (and vice versa).
Please do correct me if I'm wrong / missing on any important points. I'm trying to gauge how accurate my mental map of the field is.

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Re: What do comp and hours look like after big law?

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Jun 07, 2021 5:35 pm

C/O 2015-2017 range from a T14. Here's what a couple of my cohorts are doing several years out, as a datapoint:

Of the ~20-25ish people who started around the same time as me in my (non-NYC) firm's lit dept:

- About half are still there
- 3 are AUSAs or state prosecutors
- 3 went in-house (yes, even as litigators); 1 of those is now back in biglaw
- 4 are at other biglaw firms or midlaw
- 1 out of law entirely
- can't find the others; am lazy

Among my closest law school friends who went the biglaw route (most did not):

- 1 still in biglaw
- 1 out of law entirely
- 1 lateraled to a well-regarded boutique
- 1 went in-house

I recently lateraled and plan to stay here as long as I can stand it before seeking out gov work. Loans are almost paid off (~10k left of 200k).

Can't really speak to most of your questions but (a) your comp range is low for biglaw - 5th years make nearly 400k now once you factor in special bonuses and (b) it's categorically not true that people leaving biglaw are unemployable in other big law firms. The lateral market is huge. The "expiration date" stuff you might have heard about is generally once you get more senior (6th-8th year+). Otherwise I think you generally have a decent map of the territory. I'd also note that the "top tier public service jobs" you identify (clerking/government honors) are mostly for people immediately out of law school or within a year or two, with some exceptions. I also don't know anyone personally who went fedgov honors into biglaw, but AUSA -> biglaw is common. The people I know who went fedgov are still there.

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Re: What do comp and hours look like after big law?

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Jun 07, 2021 6:09 pm

Not OP, but I am curious, what happens to Big Law Associates after 6 to 8th year? Assuming they don't make Partner or stay on as some sort of non-equity Partner/Counsel position. Is it true you can't find another Big Law post and just need to go back down to mid law? What kind of comp would that even look like?

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Re: What do comp and hours look like after big law?

Post by 2013 » Mon Jun 07, 2021 9:29 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Mon Jun 07, 2021 6:09 pm
Not OP, but I am curious, what happens to Big Law Associates after 6 to 8th year? Assuming they don't make Partner or stay on as some sort of non-equity Partner/Counsel position. Is it true you can't find another Big Law post and just need to go back down to mid law? What kind of comp would that even look like?
This differs based on practice. Specialists can move around well past 6-8 years. I’ve seen tax specialists with multiple lateral moves after 10+ years of biglaw (at similarly ranked firms).

I think for corporate folks, they end up just moving down the AmLaw/vault list until they find a good counsel/nonequity partner position if the goal is to stay in biglaw.

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Re: What do comp and hours look like after big law?

Post by nealric » Tue Jun 08, 2021 12:56 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Mon Jun 07, 2021 6:09 pm
Not OP, but I am curious, what happens to Big Law Associates after 6 to 8th year? Assuming they don't make Partner or stay on as some sort of non-equity Partner/Counsel position. Is it true you can't find another Big Law post and just need to go back down to mid law? What kind of comp would that even look like?
They take them away to live on a farm... :twisted:

In seriousness, I'd keep in mind the following things:

1) By the 6-8 year level, there's already been quite a bit of attrition at most firms. Going a full 8 years in biglaw is well above average. The majority of associates will have left for a smaller firm, in-house, or government (either because they no longer wanted to be in biglaw, or they were counseled out). It takes serious endurance to stick around 8 years in biglaw.

2) A lot of firms have a partnerhship track that's more like 10-12 years. Some firms (notably Kirkland) automatically give you a partner title after around year 6, but it's partnership in name only, and the real partnership decision would likely happen in the 10-12 year timeframe.

3) Firms have different policies for what to do about an associate after a certain period. Some use the "associate" title pretty much indefinitely (rare), more just give a "counsel" title to someone they don't want to make partner at that time but still see working for the firm long-term (they may still eventually make partner). At my old firm, it was extremely rare to go straight from associate to partner. Most spent at least two years as counsel before getting the partnership nod. Counsel is a bit of a weird catch-all title that can be anything from a semi-retired lawyer, to a law professor who works at the firm part time, to a lawyer with a niche practice that can't command full partner billing rates, to a senior associate gunning for partner, to a permanent associate.

4) It's less common than it used to be for the partnership year to be a definitive up or out event. 30 years ago, not making partner was essentially a judgment by the firm that you didn't have what it takes to be at the firm long-term and a signal it was time to move on. Today, it's often just that they can't make a good enough business case to make you partner at that specific time. Some firms no longer have a fixed number of years before you are "up" for partner.

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Re: What do comp and hours look like after big law?

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Jun 08, 2021 2:40 pm

Yeah re: associates who don't make partner, my V10 in DC explicitly told everyone that they are happy to keep people on indefinitely who can't make partner (or don't want to), that doing so is common, and that we shouldn't worry about being kicked to the curb eventually if we don't become partners. Of course, the caveat is that you have to remain profitable for them, meaning that the all-in expense of employing you is less than what the firm collects from your billed hours (as with any employer, realistically). But there's a huge gap between senior people who are no longer profitable, and senior people who won't make partner.

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Re: What do comp and hours look like after big law?

Post by bajablast » Wed Jun 09, 2021 12:26 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Tue Jun 08, 2021 2:40 pm
Yeah re: associates who don't make partner, my V10 in DC explicitly told everyone that they are happy to keep people on indefinitely who can't make partner (or don't want to), that doing so is common, and that we shouldn't worry about being kicked to the curb eventually if we don't become partners. Of course, the caveat is that you have to remain profitable for them, meaning that the all-in expense of employing you is less than what the firm collects from your billed hours (as with any employer, realistically). But there's a huge gap between senior people who are no longer profitable, and senior people who won't make partner.
What about associates who don't have the staying power/endurance/desire to stay in big law as either a partner or a perpetual associate? Is it limited to in-house, government, and smaller firm? These are gross overgeneralizations so if others feel differently please chime in, but smaller firm seems like a worse option than staying in big law (all the small firms I know of work as much/almost as much as those in big law, just with far less pay and perks - not having billables could be nice, but if you're still working the same amount, doesn't really make a difference). In-house (especially for a fund or bank) sounds more and more enticing but obviously the lower pay isn't great plus I have read/heard going in-house can make you less marketable as a lawyer (i.e. your lawyer skills are not being used as often/more of a project manager/business person lawyer and can get siloed in a particular industry - would suck to work for some company only to get laid off and then be stuck in that industry). And while government has some great benefits and job security to make up for the drop in pay, doesn't seem like there is a huge need for transactional attorneys in that realm....are there other routes to take? I guess you can always start your own firm (or leave the law entirely) but both of those options are pretty drastic lol.

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Re: What do comp and hours look like after big law?

Post by nealric » Wed Jun 09, 2021 1:16 pm

bajablast wrote:
Wed Jun 09, 2021 12:26 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Tue Jun 08, 2021 2:40 pm
Yeah re: associates who don't make partner, my V10 in DC explicitly told everyone that they are happy to keep people on indefinitely who can't make partner (or don't want to), that doing so is common, and that we shouldn't worry about being kicked to the curb eventually if we don't become partners. Of course, the caveat is that you have to remain profitable for them, meaning that the all-in expense of employing you is less than what the firm collects from your billed hours (as with any employer, realistically). But there's a huge gap between senior people who are no longer profitable, and senior people who won't make partner.
What about associates who don't have the staying power/endurance/desire to stay in big law as either a partner or a perpetual associate? Is it limited to in-house, government, and smaller firm? These are gross overgeneralizations so if others feel differently please chime in, but smaller firm seems like a worse option than staying in big law (all the small firms I know of work as much/almost as much as those in big law, just with far less pay and perks - not having billables could be nice, but if you're still working the same amount, doesn't really make a difference). In-house (especially for a fund or bank) sounds more and more enticing but obviously the lower pay isn't great plus I have read/heard going in-house can make you less marketable as a lawyer (i.e. your lawyer skills are not being used as often/more of a project manager/business person lawyer and can get siloed in a particular industry - would suck to work for some company only to get laid off and then be stuck in that industry). And while government has some great benefits and job security to make up for the drop in pay, doesn't seem like there is a huge need for transactional attorneys in that realm....are there other routes to take? I guess you can always start your own firm (or leave the law entirely) but both of those options are pretty drastic lol.
"Small firm" can be incredibly diverse. It can be anything from a solo who works 20 hours a week, to an insurance defense sweatshop requiring 2600 billable hours. Pay at a small firm can be anywhere from 7 figures+ for a partner at a high-end boutique to poverty wages. There are small firms with great pay and hours, and there are small firms with awful pay and hours. It really depends on the practice that firm has and the personalities involved.

Whether in-house makes you less marketable outside of other in-house jobs depends on your practice. I have personally worked with folks in-house who ended up as biglaw partners. I also know people who have gone from firm, to in-house, to firm, and back again. I also know plenty of people who have switched industries. Obviously, if you are an environmental lawyer who specializes in oil refineries, you may be pigeonholed in that industry. But most lawyers aren't that narrow, and you probably already had that narrow specialty before going in-house.

The government does more transactional work that you might think. Obviously, they aren't doing any mergers, but all of the contracting work has to be done by someone. There's also the regulatory side (i.e. SEC).

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Re: What do comp and hours look like after big law?

Post by bajablast » Thu Jun 10, 2021 10:33 am

nealric wrote:
Wed Jun 09, 2021 1:16 pm
bajablast wrote:
Wed Jun 09, 2021 12:26 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Tue Jun 08, 2021 2:40 pm
Yeah re: associates who don't make partner, my V10 in DC explicitly told everyone that they are happy to keep people on indefinitely who can't make partner (or don't want to), that doing so is common, and that we shouldn't worry about being kicked to the curb eventually if we don't become partners. Of course, the caveat is that you have to remain profitable for them, meaning that the all-in expense of employing you is less than what the firm collects from your billed hours (as with any employer, realistically). But there's a huge gap between senior people who are no longer profitable, and senior people who won't make partner.
What about associates who don't have the staying power/endurance/desire to stay in big law as either a partner or a perpetual associate? Is it limited to in-house, government, and smaller firm? These are gross overgeneralizations so if others feel differently please chime in, but smaller firm seems like a worse option than staying in big law (all the small firms I know of work as much/almost as much as those in big law, just with far less pay and perks - not having billables could be nice, but if you're still working the same amount, doesn't really make a difference). In-house (especially for a fund or bank) sounds more and more enticing but obviously the lower pay isn't great plus I have read/heard going in-house can make you less marketable as a lawyer (i.e. your lawyer skills are not being used as often/more of a project manager/business person lawyer and can get siloed in a particular industry - would suck to work for some company only to get laid off and then be stuck in that industry). And while government has some great benefits and job security to make up for the drop in pay, doesn't seem like there is a huge need for transactional attorneys in that realm....are there other routes to take? I guess you can always start your own firm (or leave the law entirely) but both of those options are pretty drastic lol.
"Small firm" can be incredibly diverse. It can be anything from a solo who works 20 hours a week, to an insurance defense sweatshop requiring 2600 billable hours. Pay at a small firm can be anywhere from 7 figures+ for a partner at a high-end boutique to poverty wages. There are small firms with great pay and hours, and there are small firms with awful pay and hours. It really depends on the practice that firm has and the personalities involved.

Whether in-house makes you less marketable outside of other in-house jobs depends on your practice. I have personally worked with folks in-house who ended up as biglaw partners. I also know people who have gone from firm, to in-house, to firm, and back again. I also know plenty of people who have switched industries. Obviously, if you are an environmental lawyer who specializes in oil refineries, you may be pigeonholed in that industry. But most lawyers aren't that narrow, and you probably already had that narrow specialty before going in-house.

The government does more transactional work that you might think. Obviously, they aren't doing any mergers, but all of the contracting work has to be done by someone. There's also the regulatory side (i.e. SEC).
Thank you for this, it gives me some optimism. I guess the takeaway is that your career is what you make of it - life is not a straight track and we have to keep our eyes out for the next opportunity, whatever that may be...

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Re: What do comp and hours look like after big law?

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Jun 14, 2021 12:20 pm

I just left big law in January 2021, c/o 2017. I work in legal for the state government now, I took a huge pay cut. I work from 9-5 and am loving the work-life balance I have now. I can't afford to travel or eat out the way I did when I was in big law. However, I feel like I ate out and traveled as I did to reward myself for working such an intense/miserable job.

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Re: What do comp and hours look like after big law?

Post by Iowahawk » Wed Jun 16, 2021 3:05 pm

Remember that it’s also not uncommon to switch markets. In attractive smaller markets a significant proportion of attorneys at the better firms, AUSAs, etc. will have major-market biglaw experience of some sort, though at firms you will often take a class year cut when moving.

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Re: What do comp and hours look like after big law?

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Jun 16, 2021 4:20 pm

It's worth taking a look at the "Let's Talk In-House Salaries" thread -- there are a lot of useful datapoints there to get an idea of what various exit options are like, at least on the corporate side.

I think for in-house options, there's a huge variation and a lot of that depends on industry. For example, I'm class of 2016 and most of my peers in general corporate practice groups moved in house for gigs in the upper $100ks to lower $200ks base comp, which are typically considered great exits, but for my specific industry comp is much higher. Sometimes there are more comp restrictions at the bigger companies because there are predetermined comp tiers that they can't move away from, so going to a F500 is not always the most lucrative move despite the sexy brand awareness.

I think the most important thing you can do moving out of big law is to be patient. I interviewed at 5 different places and the comp, culture and career outlook varied greatly from company to company. I'm very glad I didn't take the first "good" opportunity that came along, since after comparing my options, it wasn't truly the best exit.

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